Leistikow: Oddsmakers think Hawkeyes will go 5-4 this football season, plus other Big Ten projections
Gambling website Bet Online has posted win totals for all 14 teams in the Big Ten Conference.
These are numbers constructed by oddsmakers designed to take your money. In simple terms, they want to get half of the money from bettors who take the “over” and half on the “under.” If they set a good line — and they usually do — they make their money by charging a 10% to 15% premium on all bets (and they cash in on the losers).
What’s interesting is each team’s line takes into account a nine-game season, with that ninth opponent still to be determined based on the final West Division and East Division standings.
According to the numbers as of Tuesday morning, Bet Online has Iowa’s over/under at 4½ wins, with a high premium on the over (-165 odds; meaning you need to risk $16.50 for every $10 wagered). A successful under bet, meaning a 4-5 season or worse, would pay +135 odds (a $10 bet to win $13.50).
With that math lesson in mind, here are the 14 Big Ten win totals and some early thoughts (not to be confused for gambling advice!), ordered from most to fewest. Teams must complete nine Big Ten games before Jan. 1 for the wager to be valid.
Ohio State (8½ wins; -130 odds on over, +100 on under)
Oddsmakers are basically saying that there’s a better than 50% chance that the loaded Buckeyes go 9-0, including a win in the Big Ten Championship Game. As good as Ohio State is expected to be, that’s an incredibly small margin for error. The lean: Under; the Buckeyes are not invincible.
Penn State (7 wins; -125 over, -105 under)
The Nittany Lions’ Big Ten records over the last four seasons are 8-1, 7-2, 6-3, 7-2 … so, yeah, exactly a 7-2 average. It’s hard to quibble with this line. The lean: Over; especially if Micah Parsons returns.
Michigan (6½ wins; -140 over, +110 under)
The Wolverines got the toughest crossover draw in the East, with a trip to Minnesota in the season opener and a home date against Wisconsin. The lean: Over; quarterback Joe Milton sounds like a difference-maker.
Wisconsin (6½ wins; -140 over, +110 under)
If Wisconsin is solid in the West as usual, you’d probably guess it loses Game 9 to Ohio State or Penn State. So to take the over, you'd have to hope the Badgers go 7-1 before the so-called Champions Week. The lean: Under; more value on that side, with trips to Michigan and Iowa on the docket.
Minnesota (6 wins; -140 over, +110 under)
The Gophers return their entire offensive line (great for cold-weather games) and quarterback off an 11-2 team and could be extra potent if receiver Rashod Bateman is cleared to return. P.J. Fleck has earned roster buy-in, which should translate to all-season motivation. The lean: Over; because 5-4 means the boat sprang an unexpected leak.
Iowa (4½ wins; -165 over, +135 under)
The Hawkeyes were 10-3 last year but have the least quarterback experience in the Big Ten West. Whether they contend for the division title rides on the right arm of sophomore Spencer Petras. Iowa has three manageable games out of the gate (at Purdue, then home for Northwestern and Michigan State) that will set the tone. The lean: Over; Iowa's supreme special-teams play should be worth one close win. And if it goes 4-4 (which would be lackluster by Iowa standards), a Champions Week matchup against an opponent in the Indiana range offers the Hawkeyes a good shot at a fifth win.
Indiana (4½ wins; -140 over, +110 under)
There is more love than usual for the Hoosiers, who are picked for fourth in the Big Ten East. In a year that might see depth play a factor, Tom Allen’s team has little margin for error. The lean: Under; offensive-line play is a question mark.
Nebraska (4 wins; -115 over, -115 under)
The Cornhuskers have the most difficult schedule in the Big Ten. If you assume losses to East opponents Ohio State and Penn State, they must go 5-2 the rest of the way to hit the over. The lean: Under; though I think a push is most likely.
Northwestern (3½ wins; -145 over, +115 under)
The Wildcats and Boilermakers have identical odds; which means their matchup against each other in West Lafayette could be the swing game. Even with no quarterback play last year, Northwestern gave Purdue all it could handle. The lean: Over; it’s usually a mistake to doubt Pat Fitzgerald.
Purdue (3½ wins; -145 over, +115 under)
The easiest crossover slate for a West team, with matchups against Rutgers and Indiana, makes the over seem obvious. But that’s usually where the oddsmakers get you. The lean: Under; unless Rondale Moore gets cleared for a comeback.
Illinois (3 wins; -125 over, -105 under)
Lovie Smith’s fifth team could be his best group yet, and the offense is led by 27th-year senior Brandon Peters. This isn’t a great team, but it won’t give up. The lean: Over; because Rutgers is on the schedule and just two more wins are needed for a push.
Michigan State (3 wins; -115 over, -115 under)
There is not much confidence out there for Year 1 under Mel Tucker; this coronavirus-shortened prep time really hurts the two teams with new coaches. (See Rutgers later.) The lean: Over; even if all goes badly and Sparty is 2-6, it can still salvage a push via Champions week.
Maryland (2 wins; -155 odds on over, +125 on under)
The Mike Locksley era is off to a rough start, with the Terrapins showing they are greatly outmatched at the line of scrimmage. Motivation could be in question as the season wears on. The lean: Under; good luck finding three wins.
Rutgers (1½ wins; -125 odds on over, -105 on under)
Greg Schiano was the right hire for Rutgers, but the rebuild is going to take time. Week 1 at Michigan State and Week 8 at Maryland provide the best two shots at wins. The lean: Under; Rutgers has lost 21 consecutive Big Ten games.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.